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Posted by Dexter Matilla - - 0 comments

By Dexter R. Matilla
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 19:08:00 05/24/2009

Filed Under: Arts and Culture and Entertainment, People

MANILA, Philippines – When Tessa Prieto-Valdes came out on stage to pay tribute to her Tita Conching Sunico, she was wearing one of her trademark flamboyant dresses, a red-and-beige ensemble complete with a red headdress. She proceeded to explain why it was that she dressed in such manner.

“It’s theatrical,” she said, adding that it was Sunico’s love for the theater that truly inspired her to express herself through fashion.

But, of course, Sunico means much more than that, as proven by today’s top names in the performing arts and fashion who recently staged a special performance for their late friend at the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

“Mga Ginintuang Alaala ni Conching Sunico at ng Met” was a 90-minute concert paying homage to Sunico’s legacy in the performing arts, fashion and charity work, still very much felt today 19 years after she passed away. (She was the first recipient of the Presidential Medal of Merit when the honor was posthumously bestowed by President Corazon Aquino.)

Filipino Heritage Festival director Bambi Harper said Sunico always gave the impression of a towering presence much more than her 5’4” height indicated.

“Nineteen years after her death, she casts a giant shadow on the field of theater production, as an event organizer for charitable causes, as patron of fledgling fashion designers, composers and actors,” Harper said. “While she was executive director of the historic Metropolitan Theater, Filipino music and dance again took center stage as in the heyday of the kundiman.”

Personal funds

Sunico was so devoted to Metropolitan Theater that she even used her personal funds to pay the salaries of the staff when the government stopped subsidizing it following the EDSA Revolution.

“Without her, the building deteriorated and is now in a sad state of disrepair,” Harper said.

Directed by Tony Mabesa and Floy Quintos, the show began with a stirring mix of melodies that defined the Metropolitan and Sunico.

Chinggoy Alonso, who starred as King Arthur, as Henry Higgins in “My Fair Lady” and Captain Von Trapp in “The Sound of Music,” sang “Camelot” and “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face.” Karla Patricia Gutierrez sang “I Could Have Danced All Night” and “Climb Every Mountain.”

Raul Sunico performed Allegro de Concierto by E. Granados and “Liebestod” from Richard Wagner’s “Tristan and Isolde.”

The Metro Manila Community Orchestra followed with their performance of Lucio San Pedro’s “Buwan sa Kabundukan.”

Legendary couturier Ben Farrales paid homage to Sunico by evoking the glamour of the Kahirup and the courtly elegance of the Maranao. The Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group took the audience on a charming montage of Filipino fashion with their play “Saplot.”

Toward the end of Sunico’s life, she mounted four revues that re-ignited interest in traditional and pop Filipino music.

Mabesa said that despite Sunico’s admiration for Western music, her belief in homegrown music remained strong.

Signature themes from the Met’s “Filipino Music” revue such as “Sa Ugoy ng Duyan,” “Dahil sa ’Yo,” and “Eto Na Kami” were sung by Leo Valdez, Gutierrez, Clarissa Ocampo, Ana Feleo, Beverly Salviejo, Chinggay Lagdameo and Rachelle Gerodias, with the UP Concert Chorus and the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group.

“Nostalgia is a wonderful thing,” Mabesa said of Sunico, whom he described as an indomitable and spirited woman. “But all art must move on—songs can be interpreted by others; legendary dance numbers recreated and enlivened. Young artists can be inspired by past performers. We who have had the privilege of creating can only pass our memories on. Hopefully we can be inspirations. Tita Conching, we know you agree wholeheartedly.”

“Mga Ginintuang Alaala ni Conching Sunico at ng Met” was written by Floy Quintos with musical direction by Chino Toledo, light design by Joaquin José Aranda and set design by Eric Cruz.

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